Killer Rittenhouse Goes Free—Fascists Celebrate
Wheels of racist U.S. Injustice System grind on
The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenage rightist vigilante who killed two people and seriously wounded a third at a 25 August 2020 anti-racist protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, exemplifies the deeply ingrained biases of the American capitalist “Justice” system. Two nights before the protest, Kenosha police had pumped seven bullets into Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man who was paralyzed as a result. According to the New York Times:
“A neighbor recorded the shooting with a cellphone. The video shows Mr. Blake being shot seven times in the back in front of his children as he tried to get into his car.
“Mr. Blake’s family has said he is paralyzed from the waist down.”
When the video circulated on social media, according to the Times, “Outrage spread quickly, rekindling the nationwide protests for racial justice that had followed the deaths of George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans after encounters with the police.”
No charges were brought against any of the cops involved in Blake’s shooting, which ignited protests by many outraged by what they correctly saw as yet another egregious instance of murderous police racism. The protests resulted in a response by rightist vigilantes, supposedly concerned about damage to property. The Wisconsin Examiner described the situation on the night of the shootings as well as the relationship between the police and the loosely organized pack of vigilantes that Rittenhouse joined:
“The tension in the city, along with an explicit invitation to self-styled militia members on social media, brought Rittenhouse and hundreds of other, mostly white, armed civilians to the city—some were formal members of right wing groups such as the Proud Boys or Boogaloo Bois; others were just supporters of then-President Donald Trump determined to protect the city from the threat of ‘antifa’ [antifascist] and Black Lives Matter protesters.
“During the protests the Kenosha Guard Facebook page, which had invited armed citizens to come defend the city, quickly gained thousands of followers, and remained active through the night. At 5:42 p.m. on Aug. 25 Kevin Matthewson, the Kenosha Guard’s ‘commander,’ emailed Kenosha PD Chief Daniel Miskinis about the group’s intentions.
“‘We are mobilizing tonight and have about 3,000 RSVP’s,’ Matthewson wrote. ‘We have volunteers that will be in uptown, downtown, and at the entrances to other neighborhoods.’
“‘I ask that you do NOT have your officers tell us to go home under threat of arrest as you have done in the past,’ Matthewson added. ‘We are willing to talk to KPD [Kenosha Police Department] and open a discussion. It is evident that no matter how many officers, deputies, and other law enforcement officers that are here, you will be outnumbered.’
“It’s unclear if Miskinis responded to the email.
“At 9:57 p.m., around the same time Rittenhouse was guarding the [Car Source dealership], Kenosha Police Sergeant Adam Jurgens sent a message in the department’s internal messaging system about the presence of armed civilians in the city. Jurgens’ message tells officers they may need to give these civilians an order to ‘stand down,’ but downplays the threat posed by the militias, whom he describes as ‘very friendly.’
“‘If problems arise and those groups enter into the mix please provide them verbal orders to stand down if we have the resources to handle the calls for service,’ Jurgens wrote. ‘Very friendly but we need to handle our business in-house as much as possible.’
“About 45 minutes later, law enforcement officers driving by the dealership in an armored vehicle offer Rittenhouse’s group water. On a live-streamed video of this exchange, one of the officers echoes Jurgens’ tone of friendship to the counter protesters carrying AR-15 style rifles.
“‘We appreciate you guys. We really do,’ one of those officers can be heard saying to Rittenhouse and his group.”
It is hardly surprising that the cops would feel “very friendly” toward those who rallied, guns in hand, to oppose the anti-police protest. It is worth noting the qualification Jurgens introduces regarding their vigilante allies: they should be told to “stand down if we have the resources to handle the calls” so that the cops could “handle our business in-house as much as possible.” The clear implication is that if “business” cannot be “handled” by the police alone, the gun-toting rightist thugs might come in handy. There is a long history of this in America, including the white civilian slave patrols in the 19th Century and the Citizens’ Alliances that provided goons to help suppress major labor upsurges in the early 20th Century, including the 1934 Minneapolis general strike.
Rittenhouse and his ilk have plenty of friends in high places who recognize their potential value as hard-core, low-cost defenders of the status quo. This was clearly the attitude of Donald Trump, who publicly solidarized with Rittenhouse and invited him and his mother to visit him at Mar-a-Lago a few days after his acquittal. When challenged during a televised September 2020 presidential debate to denounce the white-supremacist Proud Boys Trump responded ominously:
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”
When Rittenhouse was released from custody, after wealthy right-wing donors paid his $2 million bail, he went to a bar in Kenosha to celebrate with the Proud Boys. Trump’s administration instructed U.S. federal agencies to express support for the youthful killer:
“Federal law enforcement officials were directed to make public comments sympathetic to Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with fatally shooting two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, according to internal Department of Homeland Security talking points obtained by NBC News.”
Rittenhouse denies he is a white supremacist, but so do his Proud Boy associates whose leaders, in a bid to broaden their appeal, engage in what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes as “a duplicitous rhetorical game: claiming to reject white nationalism while espousing a laundered version of popular white nationalist tropes.” The well-informed SPLC reports that the fascists regard the Proud Boys as their own:
“‘Let’s not bullshit,’ Brian Brathovd, aka Caerulus Rex, told his co-hosts on ‘The Daily Shoah,’ an antisemitic podcast popular with the alt-right. If the Proud Boys ‘were pressed on the issue, I guarantee you that like 90% of them would tell you something along the lines of “Hitler was right. Gas the Jews.’”
‘Self-Defense’ Means Disarming Rightist Vermin
Prominent left-liberals, including Matt Taibbi, Glen Greenwald and Jimmy Dore, have defended Rittenhouse on the grounds that he was only exercising his right to self-defense. These three, all of whom have on occasion trenchantly criticized various crimes of American imperialism, pointed to the pro-Democratic Party mainstream media’s failure to accurately describe what happened, including the omission of details that might muddy their narrative—like the fact that all the victims were white and that one of them was armed with a pistol. Viewing the event through the narrow, legalistic prism of an abstract right to self-defense, these radical journalists concluded that Rittenhouse deserved to get off.
Marxists look at things differently. Rittenhouse, a baby-faced naif of 17, had gone out looking for trouble and brought his AR-15 rifle along to join a group that was not incensed by the murderous assault on Jacob Blake, but supposedly by the destruction of property by some enraged protesters the previous night. Rittenhouse (who was too young to either legally possess or display his weapon) joined the pack of armed rightist vigilantes who were ostensibly in Kenosha to protect the property of people they did not know. Rittenhouse, who brought his gun to intimidate protesters presumably had no intent of killing anyone—but he inserted himself into a situation where this was an entirely possible outcome.
Decent people do not recognize the “right” of fascists and their various ultra-rightist friends and associates to mobilize—nor do we recognize their right to “defend” themselves against attempts to disarm them, which is what Rittenhouse’s victims were seeking to do. While the latter’s tactics were obviously seriously deficient, their intent was commendable.
Rittenhouse’s first victim was Joseph Rosenbaum who, although unarmed, apparently rushed toward his killer after he saw Rittenhouse pointing his gun in the direction of Joshua Ziminski, an armed protester who had been damaging cars at the dealership. Rittenhouse, who had become separated from the rest of the vigilantes, shot Rosenbaum four times—finishing him off with a bullet to the back, according to Dr Doug Kelley of the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office:
“Kelley, the pathologist, said Rosenbaum was shot four times by someone who was within 4 feet of him. He testified that Rosenbaum was first wounded in the groin and then in the hand and thigh as he faced Rittenhouse, and then was shot in the head and in the back.
“Those final two shots were at a downward angle, the pathologist said.”
If an antifa militant had killed an unarmed Rittenhouse or one of his associates with a bullet in the back while they were on the ground it is highly unlikely that any capitalist law enforcement agency would have characterized it as “self-defense.” Rittenhouse voluntarily joined a gang of rightist gun-wielding thugs whose intent was to intimidate unarmed, anti-racist demonstrators. Class-conscious working-class militants can only view his participation in this armed counter-protest as negating any right to “self-defense,” for the same reason that we do not recognize any right for scabs crossing picket lines to “defend” themselves against those on strike.
After killing Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse fled the scene, but was followed by a number of protesters. When he tripped and fell to the ground, one of them kicked him. Rittenhouse fired a shot that missed. Anthony Huber then unsuccessfully attempted to grab the AR-15 but Rittenhouse managed to shoot and kill him. Gaige Grosskreutz then approached holding a pistol, which he was unwisely pointing at the killer without pulling the trigger. Rittenhouse, presumably seeing the gun, fired again, seriously wounding Grosskreutz. Rittenhouse then walked toward the police with his hands up but was allowed to pass with his gun. As Jimmy Dore correctly observed, any black on the scene walking toward the police with a long gun would have been shot before he got close.
Judge Bruce Schroeder displayed a significant bias, ruling in favor of a defense motion that those shot by Rittenhouse could not be described as “victims,” while denying a prosecution request to prohibit them being referred to as “arsonists,” “looters” or “rioters.” Schroeder also threw out the relatively minor charge that everyone could agree that Rittenhouse was obviously guilty of—violating the law prohibiting 17-year-olds from owning or carrying a firearm in public. In addition, Schroeder disallowed as potentially prejudicial, the introduction of an audio recording made two weeks prior to the shootings which apparently included Rittenhouse, viewing looters, commenting, “Bro, I wish I had my fucking AR. I’d start shooting rounds at them.”
The fact that all but one of the jurors in the trial was white also increased the likelihood of an acquittal for this young vigilante.
A ‘license to kill violent commies without worrying’
The jury’s decision elicited a broad spectrum of responses. President Joe Biden, opining that it proved the jury system works, advised everyone to abide by the verdict. Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers star quarterback whose career was terminated for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police racism, was far closer to the mark with his observation that: “We just witnessed a system built on white supremacy validate the terroristic acts of a white supremacist.”
Much of America’s fascistic far-right apparently shared Kaepernick’s assessment, although they put a plus where he put a minus. Many of them viewed the Rittenhouse acquittal as a green light to attack their enemies—which include racial minorities, organized labor and leftists. The Zionist Anti-Defamation League, which closely monitors America’s far-right, reported that as soon as “the jury announced its verdict, online extremist spaces erupted in cheers and self-congratulatory rhetoric.” The ADL cited a few examples, including the following:
“On Telegram, QAnon John wrote, ‘This case is a MAJOR turning point in the quest for JUSTICE in our country. Especially in terms of the 2nd Amendment, and self-defense cases moving forward…The precedent set in this trial will be one that is revisited, and referenced for the unseeable future.’
“Also on Telegram, Aaron Chapman, the leader of the neo-Nazi group the Occidental Templars, praised the verdict as giving ‘good Americans legal precedent and license to kill violent commies without worrying about doing life in prison if we defend ourselves in a riot. This will also show militia types that they don’t have to avoid the riots to protect themselves legally.’
. . .
“The neo-Nazi Nationalist Social Club wrote on Telegram, ‘Report any and all Communist activity in the New England area in the wake of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict to:’ and then provided their contact information.”
Liberals do not approve of attempts to break up fascist marches, meetings and other sorts of public activity; they consider that Nazis, Klansmen, Proud Boys, etc., have a democratic right to assemble and organize movements to attack blacks, racial minorities, leftists and trade unions. A strategy of reliance on the police and other state agencies to contain the threat posed by the ultra-right can only create the preconditions for their growth, particularly in periods of general social instability. As the 2020 events in Kenosha illustrate, the cops tend to (correctly) view the ultra-right as their allies in the face of any serious resistance from the exploited and oppressed. It is therefore hardly surprising that white supremacist groups have recruited plenty of members from the police and military special forces over the years. The treatment Rittenhouse received from the police and courts exemplifies the futility of relying on the agencies of the racist capitalist state to suppress the threat posed by the extreme right. The fascists are not wrong to celebrate the Rittenhouse acquittal as a “legal precedent and license to kill violent commies.”
For armed self-defense against fascist provocations!
A key lesson of the events in Kenosha is that anti-fascists must develop effective methods of disarming and dispersing far-rightists before the scope of the problem gets out of hand. In every situation tactics must be determined by the balance of forces—the time to act is when it is likely that most of the casualties will be suffered by the enemies of the oppressed, not by their allies. While we solidarize with the heroism and selflessness demonstrated by anti-rightist activists in Kenosha, we note that they appeared to be acting largely as individuals and seemed less organized than the more advanced antifa groupings in Portland or Oakland. The anger of those outraged by the hideous police violence inflicted on Jacob Blake is entirely appropriate—but vandalizing car dealerships and torching small businesses is a dead end that can only prove counterproductive in the long run.
Marxists look to the working class with its multi-ethnic, multi-racial composition as the only force with both the social power and objective interest to successfully crush the fascist nuclei before they can grow. To do so of course means transcending the framework of capitalist legality—which will require political combat with both the minions of the Democratic Party and the pro-imperialist trade-union bureaucracy. Revolutionaries uphold the right of the exploited and oppressed to armed self-defense; we advocate the creation of workers’ defense guards to support strike actions and rapidly respond to threats from racists, fascists and other enemies of the oppressed.
The American working class possesses immense, if at this point only latent, social power. A successful general strike against a particularly egregious act of racist police brutality—like the attempted assassination of Jacob Blake—could send a powerful message across the U.S. and inspire similar actions elsewhere. Such an event would inevitably be linked to a more general proletarian offensive to push up wages, organize the unorganized and recreate a fighting labor movement. The example of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union which on 19 June 2020 shutdown all ports on the U.S. and Canadian West Coast for eight hours to honor Juneteenth, George Floyd and other blacks murdered by police that year, provides a glimpse of the potential of working-class power. A militant workers’ movement capable of championing the interests of the victims of the pervasive racism of U.S. capitalism, as well as those of the tens of millions of embittered and demoralized white workers whose living standards have been steadily eroded for decades, could effectively eliminate the space within which the ultra-right seeks to grow.
An insurgent class-conscious workers’ movement would radically change the entire political equation in America—but it will require a leadership of militants who are armed with a revolutionary program that breaks with the class-collaborationism of the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy and the entire notion of an economy based on private property. Such a leadership cannot be improvised—it must base itself on the lessons learned from the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky which, in October 1917, led Russian workers in a successful assault on capitalist rule.